Jun 4, 2013

Tasty Seasonal Recipes for the Everyday Chef: Biscotti

I'm Maria Filosa from WDIY and you are listening to Tasty Seasonal Recipes for the Everyday Chef. If you've ever walked into a cafe or coffee shop, you've more than likely noticed a glass jar sitting on the counter filled with hard log shaped or diagonally cut cookies. Some might have almonds or dried fruit, some might be covered in chocolate and dipped in nuts, still others might have a sugar icing with multi-colored sprinkles. What they all have in common is that they are known as Biscotti and they are delicious. Most Italians including myself and my family pronounce them BISH KO TA. In Italy they are enjoyed as a light after dinner dessert with a fortified wine or espresso and dunking is absolutely proper etiquette. I can remember my father dipping his biscotti into a tiny cup of espresso that he would enjoy after Sunday dinners at my grandparents home. To buy them at a store could cost you anywhere from $1 to $4 each but there's no need for that when the recipe is so simple to make in your own kitchen.

The original recipe came from the Italian city of Prato back in the eighteenth century and was one born of necessity for long journeys and at wartime. The dough consisted only of flour, sugar, eggs, pine nuts and almonds. This twice baked biscuit became extremely hard and durable, almost non-perishable so it could be stored in pockets and packs without turning into dust during extended trips. The biscuit provided both carbohydrates and protein for energy during lean times. In Tuscany, the biscotti is also known as cantuccini although this term more often refers to the variations or deviations from the original recipe.

Most of today's recipes contain the same ingredients as the traditional recipe with the addition of either butter or oil and baking powder to make a more tender biscuit. Many bakers have changed or added so many ingredients that they don't even resemble the original recipe but they are accepted and enjoyed all the same. Some interesting variations include chocolate, peanut butter, raisins, lemon, orange, cinnamon, dried cherries, currants and espresso powder. They can also be made more savory by adding herbs and spices such as rosemary, oregano, dill, basil, paprika or even chili powder. The sky is the limit.

My family recipe is as follows: 2 cups of flour, 2 teaspoons of baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 cup of sugar, 3 eggs, 1 teaspoon of anise extract and one stick of butter or 1/2 cup of oil. Mix the dry ingredients together then the wet ingredients, then combine them all together to form a heavy sticky dough. Chill the dough for about an hour to make it easier to handle. Place parchment paper on a large cookie sheet. Divide the chilled dough and make two long logs 3" wide and about 1/2" thick. You may need to flour your hands to help keep them from sticking to the dough as you form the logs. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes then remove the pan and let cool for 5 minutes before cutting. Don't turn off the oven yet. Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter,  slice the logs on the diagonal into 1" wide slices. Place each slice cut side up on the pan and place them back into the oven for 8 minutes. Flip each slice over and bake for another 8 minutes or until slightly golden brown. Let the biscotti cool before glazing them with powdered sugar mixed with milk or dipping them in melted chocolate. If you decide you want to get fancy with them, add any of the variations mentioned earlier during the mixing process. You may need to adjust the amount of flour needed if your added ingredients are very wet such as melted chocolate or peanut butter.

However you decide to make them, this is one of those 'go to' recipes when you need to bring a dessert to a gathering. And don't stop there, make several different batches and place them into a gift basket. I guarantee they will be a hit. I'm Maria Filosa, thanks for listening to Tasty Seasonal Recipes for the Everyday Chef, have a bountiful day!